How Does ACT Extra Time Work?

Sections of the ACT aren’t timed individually, so how does extra time work for the exam? Loren Dunn explains how the rules work, and shares some ACT test strategies.

Many people are surprised to learn that individual sections aren’t timed during ACT extra-time administrations. What does this mean? Much to your benefit, you can use your extra time however you like. In other words, if you don’t actually need time and a half on, say, math, you don’t have to spend any extra time on math. Rather, you can put that extra time into other sections.

So how does this work?

When you get time and a half on the ACT, you get five hours for the multiple-choice sections. Every hour the proctor will indicate that an hour has passed and tell you how much time is remaining.

Now, even though you can spend as much time as you want on each section, you’re not allowed to flip back and forth between sections. Rather, every time you finish a section you tell the proctor you’ve finished that section. Flipping back to a section you’ve already completed or forward to a section you haven’t started is cause for dismissal from the test and serious repercussions. So don’t do it!

Many, if not most, people take the optional essay. Be sure to check the requirements of the colleges to which you’ll be applying to see if you need to take the essay, and sign up for it when you’re registering for your test. When the 5-hour multiple-choice section is finished, you’re then given 45 minutes to complete the essay.

Because of this flexibility in time usage, many students with extra time accommodations find they prefer the ACT to the SAT. This is not, however, the case for everyone. Rather, I recommend taking a diagnostic ACT and a diagnostic SAT and comparing the scores (I compare the percentiles of each score to see if there’s a significant difference). If there’s a meaningful difference in scores, that usually settles it. Otherwise, I defer to whichever test felt more comfortable for the student.

Learn more about SAT/ACT accommodations. You can also find SAT/ACT test prep tutors.